In response to the Iranian regime’s violence, the Green Movement protests have grown bolder. The regime now seems stuck in a self-perpetuating cycle, in which almost every action it takes in response to the protests seems to only further erode its standing among Iranians and strengthen the opposition. And this is at the heart of what the protesters are seeking to do – delegitimize the regime until it simply can’t stand. In an attempt to break out of this trap, the regime today ginned up counterrevolutionary protests – ordering people to attend and offering free metro transit. In a similar vein, the regime has sought to paint the protests as a Western-inspired plot. So what we are seeing is a struggle for legitimacy – for the hearts and minds of the average Iranian. Yet as Iran erupts, the far-right in the US wants to lend the regime a lifeline. John Bolton said yesterday:
I would say that mere rhetorical support for the demonstrators, for the opposition is not enough. …If we’re going to support them, we should support them tangibly, with financial support, communications, perhaps other support, as well…Will some of the guns go to the side of the demonstrators? If they do, there’s a chance the regime could fall. If they don’t, I think the disparity in power between the government and the opposition is simple too great, and so the most likely outcome is Ahmadinejad and the regime stay in power.
The best way to undermine the movement is to do exactly what Bolton is advocating. It is true that no matter what the regime will claim the protests are part of a western plot – the regime is already doing this – but this claim while perhaps persuading a few, doesn’t appear to be all that persuasive given the breadth of the protests. Yet if Obama were to read a speech from the John Bolton playbook, the regime’s claims all of a sudden become a lot more persuasive. While the regime is not going to loop on state-television a clip of Obama saying the crackdown is brutal, it sure would loop a statement of Obama saying the US is going to work to forcefully support the Green Movement. Such a statement would be music to the regime’s ears and would allow them to regain the nationalist mantel that is slipping out of their grasp.
It’s important to remember that, Iranians are kind of sensitive to foreign interference in their internal affairs, with good reason considering the history involved. Thus,heavy-handed US involvement would likely backfire in the ways that Duss lays out.
Further, strategically speaking, the Green movement is trying to appeal to certain segments of the national security state/armed forces so that the movement can achieve the critical mass needed to unseat the current regi me. It likely won’t be able to do so unless it can garner at least some support (even tacit) from the state security/armed forces apparatus.
Those state security/armed forces elements, however, will not go along with a revolution armed and/or bankrolled by the United States. On the contrary, such actions by the United States would likely provoke a massive and violent reaction. Along those lines, the more the Obama administration appears to be meddling in Iranian affairs (such as calling for regime change ala Ledeen), the more twitchy the security forces will get about joining such a bold undertaking whose aims are rather ambitious and, in some ways, revolutionary - with all the attendant uncertainty and anxiety that accompany such change.But don’t take it from Matt Duss or me, take it from Iran’s dissident reformers, and the leaders of the Green movement itself, from Mir Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi to Shirin Ebadi, Trita Parsi and Akbar Ganji. There is a consensus in terms of advice for the US government: don’t get actively involved, and don’t push too hard rhetorically. Trust them. They know Iran better than self-styled “experts” like Michael Ledeen.